"Media_city Seoul 2000"

By Schwabsky, Barry | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

"Media_city Seoul 2000"


Schwabsky, Barry, Artforum International


SEOUL, KOREA

"No city changes as quickly... None has so short a memory or is so heartless to itself; it has an inhuman quality." Fifty years ago that was New York (in the eyes of journalist John Gunther), which now seems cautious and intimate compared to a city like Seoul. Decades of relentless expansion, following the depredations of war and occupation, have made Seoul a landscape where the past doesn't seem to count for much and hardly more does space for reflection; everywhere you go in this restless megalopolis, you see a city in the midst of being built. So it's probably appropriate that Seoul's newly inaugurated biennial (in everything but name) would have an essentially technophilic, futurist agenda: as general/artistic director Song Misook puts it in the catalogue, to "examine the points of contact and intersection among the arts, technology, and industry."

Like some other recent megashows, "Media_City Seoul 2000" consisted of a number of distinct exhibitions, each with its own curators. Ryu Byoung-Hak, a Korean curator living in Stuttgart, organized "The Subway Project," the portion of "Media_City" whose concept of "media" seemed closest to the way the word is used in advertising: whatever you can use to get your message across. Situated in subway stations around the city-places that, surprisingly enough to a New Yorker, are considerably calmer than the street-these works mostly adhered to familiar conventions: painting, furniture, lightboxes, and so on. They ranged from purely decorative (for instance, Kim Yousun's quasi paintings made of mother-of-pearl and lacquer) to overtly didactic (like Lee Kyunghee's History and Station, 2000, a grid of photographic portraits alternating notable figures in modern Korean history with ordinary subway riders--for the foreign visitor there came the melancholy realization that one is as ignorant of the historical figures as of the "everyday people"). But they had this in common: Though well calibrated for the spaces in which they have been placed, most seemed to lack sufficient weight to merit attention individually--Kim Sanggil's lightbox photographs, as glossy and vivid as advertising photos but with a distinct psychological edge, being among the few exceptions.

Aboveground at the Seoul Metropolitan Museum, Barbara London of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and British artist/curator Jeremy Millar organized "Media Art 2000: Escape," a show that couldn't quite make up its mind whether to be a compendium of video installations or an altogether broader presentation of mixed-media installation of all kinds. It might have been more coherent as the first, but ended up being the second, and was probably more enjoyable for it. The forty-six artists (or collaborative pairs) ranged from well-known figures like Cai Guo-Qiang, Steve McQueen, and Rosemarie Trockel to newcomers like Marco Brambilla (an Italian living in New York), the Slovenian Marko Peljhan, and Seoul native Park Chan-Kyong. The inclusion of just a few works in media other than video, film, or slide projection was puzzling. For instance, Lee Bul's Amaryllis, 1999, is a brilliantly baroque sculpture, but its connection to "media" is purely thematic-based on stylistic appropriations from Japanimation and retro-f uturistic warrior action figures. By that criterion almost any Pop-influenced work would be admissible as "media art." Likewise, the sculpture-music intersection of B.U.A. (Burnt Umber Assembly): An Entanglement of Wholes, 1998, one of Charles Long's collaborations with Stereolab, although valid in its own right, seemed our of place here. By contrast, Angela Bulloch's tower of pulsating colored lightboxes, Sound/Pixel/Stack, 2000, gained something from a context in which the manipulation of light is very much at the forefront of one's attention.

The installation's greatest strength was its mixture of classics by the likes of Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, and Laurie Anderson as well as second-generation figures like Gary Hill and Bill Viola (who showed The Greeting, 1995, one of the few works in which he really earns his exorbitant reputation) with fine recent projects by first-generation video artists like Joan Jonas and Valie Export and by a broad swath of relatively new practitioners, most of whom seem quite well versed in the works of their elders. …

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